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#aufschrei: How a Hashtag Public Forms

The final paper in this Digital Methods panel is by Axel Maireder and Stefan Schlögl, whose interest is in the #aufschrei discussion about sexism in German politics. How did this emerge from a small-scale conversation on Twitter to a major trending hashtag, and subsequently to a cross-media event, over the course of a few hours? What happened here was the growth of a communicative network in the form of a partial public or issue public related to the topic on Twitter, interleaved with other publics as enabled by the conventional mainstream media.

New forms of discussion fora and spaces, especially also including social media, enable new and lasting connections between themes and individuals. These connections are increasingly manifested in the data structures which are available through social media APIs, too, and structure the flow of communication. URLs shared in tweets and other social media updates further document the connection of such communication with other, external media, while hashtags enable the development of ad hoc publics independent of existing follower networks.

How can this be examined, and how can it be documented and visualised by research? The project gathered some 24,000 #aufschrei tweets from some 8,000 users, as well as these users' Twitter profiles and follower networks. #aufschrei was inaugurated just after midnight, and experienced a first brief spike before people went to bed, driven by a small community of participants; it restarted the next morning and at that point attracted a much larger number of participants.

The network of interactions in this hashtag divides into a number of key clusters, including clusters centred around German journalists, Pirate Party activists, Greens and Social Democrats politicians, overlapping with feminists, and separate clusters around Austrian and Swiss accounts as well as the Favstar scene. For the most part, the feminist accounts are most active; Pirate Party activists also take a leading role during the later stages of the discussion.

On the second day, links to mainstream media rise to prominence from 10 a.m. onwards, now covering the #aufschrei hashtag itself rather than the original scandal. Blogs are less prominent, but also appear to play a longer-term role than the mainstream media.

At first, participants in the hashtag are already strongly linked through follower-follower relationships, but this drops off strongly as the hashtag becomes more prominent the next day. Twitter is important in linking to both blogs and mass media, while there are fewer links between blogs and the mass media themselves; there are more links in this case than in many other political debates, however.

Overall, then, this is a small conversation which gradually becomes more prominent and thereby changes it's shape as a larger public forms. The development of clusters of interaction structure participation patterns, and interesting intermedial dynamics emerge; this is not least also because the hashtag community is deliberately targetting journalists and mass media in order to generate media coverage of the #aufschrei hashtag. But the mass media coverage does not rapidly change the nature of the hashtag.

This shows that there is no distinct stratification of clusters, or of the different levels of media types. There is no mass media sphere, separate from social media, in this case.